Talk Nation Radio special for Friday March 6, 2009
60 Codepink and Women for Peace delegation near the Rafah Crossing,
Dori Smith interviews USM Retired Col. Ann Wright
We celebrate International Women's Day 2009 with coverage of CODEPINK. They organized a peace delegation to Gaza and are now gathering at the Rafah crossing with mostly women and a few young people and men. The delegates come from various countries including Pakistan, Egypt, and the US, and they will be meeting up with Israeli women and others in Rafah who are all seeking to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza on International Women's Day March 7, 2009. If they can get into Gaza.
The Codepink delegates will be handing out gift baskets for women in Gaza. They are traveling at the invitation of the Gaza Gender Initiative of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Group leader Medea Benjamin says they will all camp out at the Rafah border if Egyptian authorities prevent them from entering Gaza. At issue they say are thousands of Palestinians who are suffering ill health and even starvation due to a blockade of all goods including food, medicine, and other vital supplies.
Hollywood actors and actresses have been organizing support for civilians in Gaza, and world famous writer Alice Walker has joined the delegation. The parents of peace activists Rachel Corrie, an American who was killed in Gaza while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes, are also with the delegation.
Most humanitarian groups and aid workers have been denied entry by both Israeli and Egyptian authorities, so UN and independent non governmental organizations have been pressuring the U.S. government to demand that they lift the blockade. CODEPINK delegates are also asking the US to demand that Israel halt the latest round of plans for settlement expansion into Palestinian lands.
We followed the group's journey with Retired US Colonel Ann Wright who is also a former diplomat. Colonel Wright stunned the world when she resigned her post in protest to the US invasion and occupation of Iraq.
After seeing the devastation from Israeli bombs that leveled 30,000 homes in Gaza, Ann Wright's post in Huffington Post blog raised the question, Can Gaza be Rebuilt through Tunnels?
In addition to the leveling of civilian homes, Israeli war planes leveled government buildings, schools, medical clinics and also targeted the UN compound in Gaza where civilians had run for shelter. 1,330 people were known to have been killed and between 5 and 6 thousand were wounded.
We first reached Ann Wright on March 5th as she met with 60 other people of good will in Cairo who were all preparing to meet up with Israeli women at the Rafah border crossing March 7th. Together they might be able to reach Gaza and help international peace groups put more pressure on the Israeli, Egyptian and American governments, asking them to open the border to Gaza and let the people of Gaza rebuild their lives.
Then we hear another update from Ann Wright taped March 6th as the group continued to make their way to the Gaza crossing to try to get into Gaza.
Colonel Wright joined Pulitzer prize winning novelist Alice Walker, Cindy and Craig Corrie, parents of peace activist Rachel Corrie who went to Rafah with the International Solidarity Movement and was killed while trying to stop the Israeli Defense Force from demolishing civilian homes.
Another ISM member, Tom Hurndel, was also killed. His case led to a high profile trial that established the guilt of an Israeli sniper, Taysir Hayb, convicted of manslaughter and obstruction of justice in an Israeli military court and later found guilty of having intentionally killed Tom Hurndel when a British inquest was held.
The actions of Israeli forces in the Gaza War have been criticized by human rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Political turmoil in Israel has led to even more confusion than usual over which leaders will determine Gaza policy.
The recent Israeli election led to such a close result that while Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni of the Kadima Party got one more vote than Likud Party head Benjamin Netanyahu, it was Netanyahu who won support from Israel's hard right and he was asked to try to form a unity government. Israeli civilians and the military are still watching efforts to determine who will assume the most powerful leadership positions.
The Obama Administration at first held back from commenting on its policy on the Gaza War. Then President Obama appointed former Senator George Mitchell as his Palestine envoy. Mitchell was sent to the region, and later Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel for talks on a role set for America by the outgoing Bush administration during which an agreement was made that US troops would assist with security at Israel's borders. That decision has proven dicey as tensions have grown within Arab states and European ones over the harshness of Israel's bombing assaults in Gaza.
President Obama then appointed former US envoy to Saudi Arabia, Charles W. Freeman, known as Chas, to chair the National Intelligence Council. An appointment that has become controversial, though Freeman is known as someone who can negotiate effectively between the US and Arab states.
The US State Department has been revealing more about US policy toward Gaza. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said the US would make efforts to try to strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah and would deny any aid to Hamas. Mahmoud Abbas though has became very unpopular in Gaza after he was seen as working with both Israeli and US leaders during the time Gaza was being heavily bombed. Secretary of State Clinton has also issued calls for an end to rockets from Gaza, and she has promised more US millions for reconstruction that will be sent into the Palestinian Authority, not through Hamas. Arab states have also contributed to Gaza reconstruction but unless the region can be stabilized it is difficult to see how reconstruction and aid work can get started.
To make matters even more complicated, not all of the rockets into Israel have come from Hamas. The Telegraph UK has been reporting that Hamas was not responsible for some rockets launched toward Israel after a fragile peace was negotiated with Hamas. This according to Israeli security officials. The Fatah movement was thought to have launched the strikes, and at least one militia group affiliated with Fatah claimed responsibility for some of the launchings.
These are just some of the complexities peace activists and aid workers must contend with as they try to support a brokered peace and get desperately need food into civilians in Gaza.
For peace enthusiasts hoping to see lives saved in Gaza and an immediate end to hostilities, the lack of cooperation from the Israeli government and the US has been a source of growing frustration. The blockade continues, wrote Retired Colonel Ann Wright in late February. A Retired US Colonel, well known for her outspoken views on the Iraq War during the time George W. Bush was in office, Ann Wright returned to the region with 60 peace delegates that are now poised to try to cross into Gaza through Rafah in solidarity with the women of Gaza for International Women's Day.
Colonel Ann Wright spent 26 years in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves. She was a diplomat in the State Department for 15 years, serving in the U.S. embassies of Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, Grenada and Nicaragua. She resigned in 2003 in protest of the then-impending invasion of Iraq. In 2009, she co-authored, Dissent, Voices of Conscience.
For more information about the peace delegation please call Jean Stevens, national media coordinator, at 508-769-2138
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